Updated at the bottom: The City Council granted a similar loan to Loyola High — the private school where the mayor sent his own kids — in 2005.
Originally posted at 7 a.m.
Of all disintegrating LAUSD campuses that need a tax-exempt loan to build new facilities, the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks isn't even in the top 700.
This place attracts the richest of the rich. It's like Candyland meets Secret Garden meets Enchanted Forest: Buckley describes itself as “a beautiful 18-acre campus, nestled away in a wooded canyon,” where “the most serious distraction a student might face on campus is watching the deer descend the hillside in the search of an afternoon snack.” (And not the paper-mache kind.) Alumni reportedly include…
… Alyssa Milano, Nicollette Sheridan, Laura Dern, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton and Kim and Rob Kardashian.
How sweet of the L.A. City Council, then, to unanimously approve a $40 million tax-exempt bond to Buckley this week, so that campus leaders can make the sprawling compound into even more of a paradise while doing the least possible damage to their $30,000-per-kid tuition pot.
Councilman Tom LaBonge, who oversees that glittering part of the Valley, introduced the motion on June 22. Councilman Paul Koretz quickly seconded it. And not even a week later, on June 26, the loan for new “science, mathematics, performing arts and general classrooms, and library, performing arts, athletic and administrative facilities” was given an unopposed L.A. City Hall stamp of approval.
Pretty much the quintessence of “rich get richer.”
How, you ask, do private schools paved in gold ensure this kind of special treatment, while the neediest South L.A. campuses stuff 40-plus kids into each dilapidated classroom?
Here's how: Buckley won't be borrowing the $40 million directly from the City of Los Angeles. Instead, the money is coming from the California Municipal Finance Authority, a non-profit “joint powers authority” with over 150 cities as members.
Private investors in the CMFA don't have to pay any state or federal taxes on the interest they earn. Why? Because every loan taken out (by developers, schools, etc.) is “supposed to provide a public benefit.” This, according to Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who became so skeptical of the CMFA's activity last year that he asked the State Auditor to look into it.
So what do you say, Los Angeles: Will you benefit from the building of the Buckley empire?
Maybe if you're Kris Jenner, your answer is “Yes.” But are billion-dollar reality TV moms who live beyond L.A. city borders because they want their potholes paved adequately really the taxpayers who need a favor?
Don't be fooled by its “non-profit” label. The CMFA's decisions do involve our taxes — because Buckley School officials and the private CMFA investors on the other end (both V.I.P. members of that club Occupy likes to call the 1 percent) won't have to pay taxes on the bond or the interest, respectively.
Those are moneys that would otherwise go back to painfully dry state coffers, where they would at least have the remote chance of buying a Compton second-grader a pencil.
Say hello to the second coming of the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency.
All redevelopment agencies across the state were wiped out by Governor Brown last year, after State Controller John Chiang found that they were grossly misusing public funds. Their assets are still in limbo, and we've heard rumors among gadflies that the successor agencies appointed by Brown to tie up loose ends have been acting just as shady as their predecessors.
But the CMFA is a whole new beast — a piñata full of party favors that politicians can hit up whenever they need to please rich constituents/campaign donors.
Notes former L.A. Daily News editor Ron Kaye on his good-government blog:
The roster of recipients of CMFA's largess includes such religious-bases private schools as the Christian universities Azusa Pacific and Biola — more than $100 million each — and Westmont College $65 million, Catholic Mater Dei High School $25.5 million and non-sectarian Lycee International de Los Angeles $12 million (Tuition $10,000 to $15,000).
Assemblyman Feuer's spokeswoman tells us over email that the CMFA audit “is expected to be released in August 2012.” However, she says she doesn't know “whether or not they are on track to complete in that timeframe.”
What will L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel do to curb the most outrageous charity masquerade we've seen at City Hall since the $1 billion last gasp of the CRA?
Update: We found another school for rich kids — this time, the mayor's rich kids — to add to the CMFA's rap sheet.
In 2005, just one year after the authority was formed, David Zanhiser wrote in the Daily Breeze that “$30 million in tax-exempt bonds on behalf of the Catholic school, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's son is enrolled.”
The Los Angeles Times, completely missing the point, assured its readers that “no city funds would be at risk.”
Why do these privileged campuses go after CMFA charity loans, instead of loans in the private sector? Because interest rates on tax-exempt loans are usually much lower than average. And the CMFA can afford to set the rates so low because its investors won't have to pay taxes on their returns — money that would otherwise be turned over to the taxpayers.